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Afghan President Signs Economic Agreements On China Visit

Chinese President Hu Jintao (right) with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, during a welcoming ceremony in Beijing today.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (right) with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, during a welcoming ceremony in Beijing today.

(RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Afghanistan and China have overseen the signing of new agreements aimed at strengthening the Afghan economy and stabilizing the volatile region.

The pacts reportedly covered economic cooperation, technical training, and the granting of preferential tariffs for some Afghan exports to China. Further details were not disclosed.

Today's signing followed talks in Beijing between Presidents Hamid Karzai and Hu Jintao, who said the visit by his Afghan counterpart would "take our comprehensive and cooperative partnership to a new level."

Chinese media quoted Karzai as saying his country was willing to cooperate with China in advancing peace and stability.

The reports said Hu also urged economic cooperation in mining, agriculture, hydroelectric, irrigation, and infrastructure projects.

Karzai arrived in Beijing late on March 23 accompanied by a delegation that includes Afghanistan's ministers of foreign affairs, defense, mines, and investment. A party of Afghan business executives also made the trip.

Chinese Investment

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan has reported that the Afghan minister of mines is thought to be taking information about the development of 11 natural-gas sites in the northwestern Afghan provinces of Jowzjan and Maimana. An international tender is now under way to determine who will win the rights to develop the gas fields.

Resource-hungry and cash-rich China already is developing gas fields nearby in eastern Turkmenistan. In December, a gas pipeline was opened near the Afghan border that links western China to Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

In 2007, the state-owned China Metallurgical Group won a tender to develop one of the world's largest unexploited copper reserves at Aynak in the province of Logar, south of Kabul. The $3 billion project represents the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan's history.

China Metallurgical Group is also bidding for the rights to develop iron-ore deposits at Hajigak in the central province of Bamiyan, west of Kabul.

The two countries share a narrow border high in the Pamir Mountains. China, which has also given humanitarian support to Afghanistan, has pledged continuing aid to the Afghan reconstruction process.

But Chinese officials have expressed concern with the current challenges Afghanistan faces in its efforts to maintain peace and stability.

China worries that a troubled Afghanistan could destabilize its far western region of Xinjiang, home to Muslim Uyghurs, and about the long-term presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and cross-border drug smuggling.

Hu was also quoted as saying today that Beijing "will always support and aid Afghanistan in its peaceful reconstruction and support Afghanistan's efforts to establish sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity."

He said both sides should "actively strike at terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism and organized cross-border crimes," and called on Afghanistan to play a greater role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Afghanistan currently has observer status within the security organization, which includes China, Russia, and four Central Asian states.

Karzai is scheduled to meet Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on March 25 before leaving the country.

based on RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and agency reports